2007/11/12

Mums - On Target

Note: Most of the pictures can be clicked to show a larger version of the image.

Each year, throughout the month of November, our major Shinto shrine, Kashima Jingu, displays chrysanthemums. Stands of them line the main path leading to the gate. On weekends, parents bring young children, dressed in their best clothes of either Western or Japanese style. The kids are often given bags of candy called chitose-ame, or "longevity candy", for November 15th is Shichi-go-san - literally "7, 5, 3" - a day for parents to pray at the shrine for the health and longevity of their children at those ages.

We decided to have a look at the mums on Sunday. As often is the case for us with Kashima Jingu, there was a pleasant surprise in store for us. In this case, we stumbled upon a non-publicized event that was rich in Japanese history and culture.

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This praying mantis came in for a close up view of a prize winning blossom.

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We saw this group of archers entering the shrine and decided to follow them.

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There were quite a few children there too, all dressed up for Shichi-go-san.

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A little girl poses in front of the worship hall holding her bag of chitose-ame candy.

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The archers stopped in front of the worship hall for a prayer.

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A priest officiates

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Meanwhile, these little guys (I call them the Three Musketeers) were using their fans as drumsticks and rapping out rhythms on modern metal monuments and ancient wooden shrine buildings alike to hear what it sounded like.


When the archers left the haiden, K came over and asked me, "don't you want to follow them?" Well, yeah (I'm not so swift at times.) So we did, and they quietly moved off into the woods to a little visited area where there is an archery range. As we got reached the area, I hung back as K approached one of the shrine's helpers to ask if we could watch. We were given permission and a woman in kimono beckoned us to an area to one side of the range where we could see both the archers and their target. There were only about six people, including ourselves, watching. The clouds occasionally sent down a light mist and a gentle breeze rustled the surrounding trees and bamboo. The only other sound was that of birds calling.

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The first archer came forward from the group and kneeled. He went through a lengthy ritual of loosening parts of his kimono, putting on his glove, receiving his bow, addressing the target area and so on, until he was ready to shoot. The proceedings were all done in slow motion almost as in a dream. I think he must have been the instructor for the group, or senior member. He had a special arrow with a large wooden head made to whistle as it flies. His shot was to signal the beginning of the event and was fired, not at a target (which had yet to be hung), but at a tarp where the target would be placed. He hit it dead center. (Of course.)

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Japanese archery is called "Kyudo" which means "the way of the bow" and is a popular sport here and also practiced around the world. I have written of it before, as one of K's students was a high school champion in the art, in the post titled (oddly enough) "The Way of the Bow". (See also the post "Yabusame" about the art of archery on horseback). The event we were watching this day was not however a regular competition, but rather appeared, due to the clothing and ritual motions, to be more of a religious one for the shrine. In public competitions the clothing is much more simple and practical and the shooting is done much more quickly, though all the same principles of Kyudo are observed. As I have felt before at Kashima Jingu, save for a few electric lights, it felt as though we had been transported several hundreds of years back in time.

A target was secured over the tarp. I'm not sure what the distance was. Typically, Kyudo targets are 28 meters from the archer, but sometimes 21 meters is used. With the target up, two archers came forward who would take turns shooting at the target. I made a video clip of one of them as he fired his arrow. I hope you enjoy it. It runs 3 minutes 40 seconds. Be sure to listen as well as watch to get the full effect of what it was like to be there.



The voice you hear at the end is from the judging stand near the target. A person raises a stick with a pompom on it to indicate a hit and announces it.

After the next archer had released his arrow, we quietly took our leave and headed back, bowing our thanks to those who had allowed us to share in this experience that so few people were witnessing.

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A little girl clings to her dad as he snaps a shot of her brother and mom in front of the haiden.


While we were leaving the shrine and walking the two blocks to the car, more rain began to fall, still gently, but ever more steadily, adding to the quiet, peaceful atmosphere as we let the events of the day and our good fortune sink in.

17 comments:

Don Snabulus said...

I've been an archery instructor at a Boy Scout camp for two different summers. I was a marginal shot, but because I am left-handed, I was a good instructor. I could stand face-to-face with the Scouts and we could perform the steps of nocking, drawing, and firing at the same time. In this way, I could provide an example and coach small adjustments in the student's form. Many of the kids I taught ended up much better than me in the course of a week at camp.

Robin said...

Thanks for the wonderful sharing..

What a rare opportunity to catch a true archer at work. And the beautiful chrysanthemums. I remember I was there 2 years ago and had the joy that lasted a lifetime.

Pandabonium said...

Snabby - how many arrows did you have to pluck out of your arm? :^) (just kidding). That's a cool thought, being able to mirror each other.

Robin - thanks for reading it. It was one of many wonderful experiences I've had here.

Ningen said...

Hello. I followed your link from Electric Politics -- good comment --- and found some beautiful pictures of Japan that reminded me how nice it was living there. Thanks.

Pandabonium said...

Ningen (human being) - Thank you so much for visiting and for your comment. Nice to hear from a fellow fan of Electric Politics.

The Moody Minstrel said...

My, but that kyudo range at Kashima Jingu brings back memories!

One Saturday back in 1992 a couple of students from Itako H.S., both members of the kyudo team, showed up at my door. I was learning kyudo at the time, and they told me there was an event I had to see over at Kashima Jingu. It turned out to be a competition between all the high school kyudo teams in our district. Since I had been practicing kyudo regularly at three of those high schools (Itako, Kashima, and Kamisu), I was no stranger there.

However, I wasn't entirely welcome. Most (but not all) of the students were generally friendly to me. The kyudo master observing the event was a somber and strict person, but he was still very decent and actually seemed tickled that I was there. The problem was the coach from Kashima H.S.'s team, ironically a young English teacher who many said looked like me (and who for a while at least had been a pretty good friend...before he suddenly developed an attitude problem). He seemed annoyed to see me there and at times was almost downright hostile. As it turned out, he also seemed to be in charge of the event.

I couldn't participate in the competition, obviously, but the students and also the master kept urging me to help out in different ways. Every time I tried, however, the Kashima coach would immediately rebuff me and order a student to take over. Finally, he spoke his first English to me that day by saying in a very condescending tone, "Look, it's impossible for you to help out here because you can't do it right! You're not Japanese! "

That was one of the main reasons I gave up kyudo.

ladybug said...

I love serendipitous events like that...when you get some unexpected extras! I really love the girls' beautiful kimonos (and the guys aren't too bad either).

The video was interesting too, looks like they were doing it in a very ritualistic manner. Also the bow looks very hard to bend, probably takes alot of strength?

Moody-too bad about the kyudo thing, but hey with a family you probably wouldn't have the time now anyway!

Pandabonium said...

Moody - so is that when you downed a can of spinach, beat the tar out of the jerk, fired all the arrows at once (which all hit the target) and said, "I am what I am and that's all what I am, says Moody the Minstrel man." ?

He was no doubt insecure in his own ability and worried about being shown up by you. Too bad he wasn't more mature about it and glad that a gaijin would take a sincere interest in it, as it seems the kyudo master was.

Ladybug - the clothing is pretty and colorful and I always enjoy watching little kids since they are so honest in the way they act. The komonos kids wear these days have much bolder patterns and colors than traditional ones - like when K was a child.

You'll have to ask Moody about the bow pull strength.

But I've read that, as with bows in the West, they are available in different sizes and strengths - 12 kg all the way up to 20 kg (26-44 lbs). Don't know if they have easier ones for beginning students. IIRC I started out on a 15 lbs bow as a kid, which is a wimpy 7 kg.

PinkPanther said...

Great photos again and so exuberant yellow mum.:-)

I will go to see the 9th Chrysanthemum exhibition in China (Zhongshan Siu Lam) city on 24 Nov.
According to the news on local paper, the floral Art pavilion in this year (include all provinces, municipalities and Japan sent potted chrysanthemum exhibition of China and South Korea and Floral Art Show..
I’ll share some photos with you after I saw it. :-D

I like those two little girls & 3 boys dressed up Shichi-go-san, but without any cute cartoon backpacks carried on their back (e.g. pinkpanther…) :-<

The Moody Minstrel said...

You'll have to ask Moody about the bow pull strength.

When I was practicing kyudo at the high schools the students were mainly using bows with 8 (18 lb.), or 10 (22 lb.) kilogram draw strength. On my final day at Itako HS the kids gave me (without permission, so it probably qualifies as theft) an old bow from their storage closet, and it has a 15 kilogram (33 lb.) draw.

However, the pulling technique is quite different from that of Western archery. You actually use the shoulders, both of them in tandem, so the draw is much easier.

Pandabonium said...

Pink Panther - wow, that should be a wonderful flower show. I look forward to any pictures you share on the blog.

Moody -thanks for that info.

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

That's a long bow, isn't it - seemingly imitate those of Japanese's art of ceremony. Best way of preserving traditional ceremony is indeed by practicing it - and hang on to it like your own religion.

I like archery for some practical reason - at times I fely like fighting with my own patience and concentration, mili-second before the release...and everything ends before you could realize it!

Good photos and observation as always, my friend.

Pandabonium said...

Low- thanks. those bows are almost 2 meters long. I like your analogy to yourself and inner experience. Rituals are our human way of preserving our values, and not just religious sense. Even the simple act of having a meal together for instance, has a profound meaning that bonds people together.

Swinebread said...

Kashima just might have the best Shrine!

Pandabonium said...

Swinebread - I'm not in a position to know about "best", but since I first visited there in 1987, I've always been in awe of the place.

sir jorge said...

amazing photographs

Pandabonium said...

Thanks, Sir Jorge.